Monday, March 12, 2018

The Problems Of Free Will As Explained In Waking Life


Back in 2001 a fantastic movie came out called Waking Life that explored numerous philosophical issues in a way few movies have done before or since. It was also distinct in that it used a technique called rotoscoping, where animations are drawn over live action video. I first saw the movie almost ten years ago and loved it. At the time, I hadn't done any serious research into the free will topic, but since then I've studied it intensely. And given all my current knowledge on the topic (which I think is very extensive), I can say that the part on free will is very good at quickly summarizing two of the known problems inherent in free will belief that many casual thinkers overlook.

Check it out, and watch the full movie if you can. If you're a philosophy lover, you will enjoy it.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Abortion And Anti-Natalism Part 1: Anti-Natalism Analyzed


It recently occurred to me that I've never made a formal argument for abortion on my blog, although I've certainly touched on the topic in various posts. I've been inspired to write about abortion because of my recent interest in the idea of anti-natalism. So I plan on spending two blog posts writing my thoughts about each topic, culminating in an argument for the ethics of abortion.

Anti-natalism is the view that not procreating is preferable to procreating because life necessarily involves some degree of suffering and there is an asymmetric relationship between suffering and pleasure such that the experience of suffering outweighs the experience of pleasure. So for example, on that latter part, imagine you were offered a week long vacation to anywhere in the world where you can do anything you wanted and all expenses would be paid for you making it totally free. But, in order to get the free vacation, you must submit to a certain amount of physical torture first. This physical torture would involve massive amounts of pain but not include any life lasting physical defects, like broken bones, scars, etc. Just pain. You also get to negotiate how long the torture will be, with the ability to bargain it down. The bargaining starts at 1 week in length, the same length as the vacation. The question is: what would be the longest amount of time you'd be willing to be tortured for a week long all-expenses paid vacation in paradise? Would you be willing to be tortured for a week? A day? An hour? A minute? A second? None at all? Chances are the maximum amount of time of torture you'd be willing to endure is not equal to the amount of time of pleasure you'd get on the vacation. In other words, if you were forced to endure an equal duration of torture to the pleasure of the vacation, you would likely not agree to the deal.

And that's because you recognize that there's an asymmetry between pain and pleasure. 1 minute at the spa getting pampered is not equal to 1 minute of torture. Now what exactly that ratio is between pain and pleasure is perhaps subjective, but virtually all of us recognize that there is an asymmetry, and we factor that into our calculations for ourselves and our loved ones when we make a cost-benefit analysis of difficult ethical conundrums.

And therein lies the basic argument for anti-natalism:

  1. Suffering is guaranteed in every human life. 
  2. Because there is an asymmetry between suffering and pleasure, such that the impact of suffering far outweighs pleasure, 
  3. In the moral calculus to have a child the heavier weight of the potential suffering overrides the weight of potential pleasure.
  4. And thus, it is better to not have a child than to have one.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Video I Made Last Year On The Pro-Truth Pledge


This is a video I made last year for my friend John Kirbow on him taking the pro-truth pledge. I made several videos like this, most of them were for The Atheist Conference that is now dead. But some of that footage is still usable, and I will find a way to repurpose it. For now, check it out. I plan on creating a YouTube channel (or several) to make videos like this in the future.



Sunday, March 4, 2018

Economist Mark Blyth On New Economic Normals


For the past year or so I've been listening to economist Mark Blyth break down the rather complex and esoteric field of economics. Despite his thick Scottish accent, he's a skilled communicator at making it somewhat digestible. He's particularly good at criticizing the ineffectiveness of right wing ideas like austerity and showing the problems that come as a result of middle class wage stagnation for 40 years. This is a recent talk of his at the Global Financial Markets Forum on those topics.


Follow him on Twitter here: @MkBlyth

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Secular Humanism: What Is It, And Can It Replace Religion?


There are numerous ideas in modern social justice philosophy and tactics used to achieve its goals that are counterproductive and that are fueling a resurgence and interest in the political Right. Many people on the Left are completely unaware of this because they live firmly surrounded by the ideological bubble cocooning them from any views they might disagree with.

And so in the sea of alternatives to traditional religion, a large segment of the Left has turned to social justice in a way that resembles all the hallmarks of a traditional religion, just without the deity. This alarms many, including me, which is why in my last post I argued why we have no better alternative but to double down in our efforts to replace traditional religion with something like secular humanism. But this won't be easy, and secular humanism is fraught with problems if it is to replace religion. And that's what I'm going to explore in this post.

What is secular humanism?


First, what is secular humanism? The name gets used a lot by atheists, but what does it mean? While there are numerous definitions, I'll focus on two. From secularhumanism.org, it's a "comprehensive, nonreligious lifestance incorporating:
  • A naturalistic philosophy
  • A cosmic outlook rooted in science
  • A consequentialist ethical system"
So secular humanism commits one to a basic consequentialist ethics, according to the Council for Secular Humanism. According to Wikipedia, secular humanism is a "philosophy or life stance that embraces human reason, ethics, social justice, and philosophical naturalism while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and superstition as the bases of morality and decision making."

The international symbol
of secular humanism
So let's examine the definitions above. First, secular humanism is naturalistic, meaning, it's atheistic. And that means it can't be religious in any traditional way. So far so good. Second, it's rooted in science, meaning, it's a worldview with an epistemological framework "relying on methods demonstrated by science." A critic could argue that this is scientism. Scientism is the view that science alone can render truth about the world and reality. The problem with that is it's wrong. There are other ways to know truth besides science, like for example, philosophy. It's not clear from the secular humanist's site that they are saying science is the only way to truth, but it is implied. Science is certainly the most reliable way to know truth about our world, as I've written about in the past, but it isn't the only way. This is a modified view known as weak scientism. Third, strict consequentialism as a normative ethical theory is too restrictive. The best approach to ethics is the tool box approach: a combination of consequentialism, virtue ethics, and deontology. So demanding that secular humanists must abide by consequentialism is a potential problem. It can alienate people, like me, who think there is no single normative ethical framework that works perfectly in all situations.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

What Should Replace Religion In A Post Religious Society?



I just wrote a few blog posts last week about how traditional religious belief is rapidly declining in the US, particularly among the younger generations, and how in its absence "social justice" increasingly has become the new "religion" of the Left, adopting along with it many of the negative attributes one typically associates with traditional religion: dogma, tribalism, group-think, purity.

I am certainly not alone in noticing this, nor am I the only one concerned by it. I see this as a huge problem. The Right has made somewhat of a comeback in recently years with its fresh faced new internet superstars Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder, Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Southern, and Paul Joseph Watson, all gaining notoriety riding the growing wave of criticism of the Left's extreme PC culture and identity politics. It's quickly becoming "cool" to riff on the Left's insanity — as well as a good way to make money. Notorious critic of the Regressive Left, Dave Rubin, for example, makes over $30k a month just on Patreon donations.

I'm mostly on the Left politically (even though I'm increasingly weary of labels), but I do have to say, many of these popular critics of the modern day Left do have a point. Their criticism isn't completely unfounded. In the larger picture, it was never just religion simpliciter that was the problem, it was always the kind of thinking endemic in religion that was the main problem: the dogmatic, tribalistic thinking that puts feelings-before-facts. Religion is just a product of that kind of thinking; it's not the cause.

Here is where I will predictably tell you that we need to replace religion with critical thinking, secular humanism, and skepticism. But I'm not sure anymore that this is even possible. I'm very skeptical skepticism will prevail. That's not to say we shouldn't encourage these three things as paramount, it's just to say that achieving them as a replacement for religion may not be feasible because human nature is antithetical to them. (More on that later.) Secular humanism is also too vague an idea to unite us. What is secular humanism? That's a topic I will tackle properly in a future post, but for now, suffice it to say that it's not going to unite people as easily as traditional religion did. Not even close. And yes, I'm aware that religions divide, even from within via competing sects, but I don't see secular humanism even coming close to the unifier that any major religion ever has.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Social Justice: The New Religion Of The Left?


Traditional religious belief is dying, especially among younger generations like millennials (AKA Gen Y) and the new generation below them, Gen Z, as I just blogged about. And the Left in particular is jettisoning traditional religion at a phenomenal pace. Between 2007 and 2014, disbelief in god grew among liberals from 10% to 19%, according to PEW. While this is all music to my ears, a growing concern I share with traditionalists is what is going to replace traditional religious beliefs?

In recent years, it seems that an answer is starting to emerge. Traditional religious belief is being replaced by social justice philosophies as religions. Social justice is in a way becoming the new religion of the Left.

Social justice is a broad term generally referring to "a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society." Legitimate social justice is perfectly fine and reasonable, but in recent years "social justice" has morphed into a new ideology based on an obsession with exaggerated perceived "victimhood" and "oppression," where getting the right gender pronouns are as important as actual racism. Today the pejorative "social justice warrior" (or SJW for short) refers to the kind of person for whom social justice is important, but who is gravely mistaken as to what real justice and fairness is, and how it pertains to individuals and society.

For example, an SJW will argue for "equality" but then insist that all differences in equality of outcome are due to racism and/or sexism and not other factors. So the fact that there are more men in physics and engineering, or more male CEOs, they will argue is due to cultural or institutional sexism, and not because more men simply like those professions and strive for those positions. They will insist that we have a 50/50 representation of men to women in all fields that women don't already dominate and that "fairness" means equality of outcome. And any challenge of this as an idea, or as a practicality, will get you tarnished as a sexist who's enabling the patriarchy.

And this is when social justice starts to become a new religion: there's an idea of the way the world works and the way it ought to be regardless of the facts, these ideas are held with dogmatic fervor, and anyone challenging them will be ostracized and effectively accused of heresy, which encourages extreme tribalism, group-think, and ideological purity.

Here are some of the dogmas of modern day social justice philosophy:

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